Asylum Productions, at Chicago Dramatists Workshop.
If Chicago playwright Lisa Dillman’s Terre Haute accurately portrays the attitudes and concerns of us “twentysomethings,” then we deserve our reputation as an aimless, narcissistic, numb generation. Melissa, a self-absorbed actress, is packing up her belongings in the apartment she shared with Brent, an impoverished, self-righteous poet. Over the play’s two and a half hours they and their friends chat, drink, and fight like petty junior high students. Which would be believable and might even be interesting if the characters were more authentic and the passions driving their often hysterical behavior more true. But it’s as difficult for us to invest in these characters’ pain as it is for Melissa to pick up her possessions and leave.
Some good performances keep the story somewhat engaging and bring out the few moments of compassion and vulnerability in Dillman’s script. Nora Herold plays Melissa’s doormat friend Mandy, a refreshing voice of reason in this artists’ sea of ego, with just the right mix of neediness and strength. Lily Shaw is a feisty Melissa; unfortunately, she’s never allowed to remove the character’s phony mask. And Kristen Randall as Brent’s current girlfriend Susan has a few lovely moments: we see her character’s heart and soul when she tells the barely listening Brent about her parents’ divorce.
Rather than satirize Melrose Place or Central Park West, the soap-operatic Terre Haute takes its place by their side, portraying young adults so caught up in their delusions of grandeur it seems they can’t exist anywhere but on the flat surface of a television screen.